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How to Winterize the Chicken Coop: 4 Steps for Success


My husband and I have been raising chickens in Western New York, where the winter temperatures consistently drop well below zero. We see harsh winds, nor’easters and plenty of piled up snow and ice. Over the years we’ve found several unique ways to winterize the chicken coop to ensure our birds will make it through winter safe and sound.

Autumn is the time of year when chicken keepers start worrying about their flock, and it doesn’t stop until spring takes hold. Can your chickens survive the harsh winter? How do you keep your chickens warm when the temps drop below zero?

Now, one thing I will not suggest in this post is to add a heat lamp to the chicken coop, as I truly don’t believe it’s necessary, even in the coldest regions. Read this post if you’d like to find out why.

In this post I’m going to cover the four steps you need to take to winterize the chicken coop without using heat. These steps are simple, easy, and best of all, cheap! Each of them are definitely features on the perfect chicken coop!

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A chicken coop covered in snow.

Winterizing the Chicken Coop

Step One: Utilize the Deep Litter Method

The deep litter method is not only a good way to cut down on chicken chores, it’s a great way to add a little heat to your chicken coop in the winter months!

You can read more about the deep litter method in our post on the subject, but the basic idea is to stir up the bedding on the floor of the coop every week and add fresh bedding on top. The deep layer of bedding helps to insulate the floor of the coop and as the litter composts over time it releases heat into the chicken coop.

If you choose not to use the deep litter method and want to clean out the coop weekly instead, it’s still a good idea to put a thick layer of pine shavings or extra bedding on the coop floor to help keep out the chill.

A dominique chicken laying in straw

Step Two: Winterize the Chicken Coop with Insulation

An insulated coop is a warm coop. Now I’m not saying you need to hire out a contractor and spend thousands of dollars to insulate your coop, but taking a few simple measures will make a big difference for your flock.

Your chickens will naturally warm the space that they live in by releasing body heat. If you can trap that heat inside the coop by insulating it, your chickens will be warmer and you won’t have the risk of fire that comes with using a heat source.

If you want to go the whole nine yards, using spray foam insulation on the coop walls and ceiling covered by plywood will make the coop nice and toasty for your birds. This might be a good idea if you live in an area that consistently drops below -10 degrees Farhenheit in the winter.

This post shows you how to easily and cheaply insulate a small building like a chicken coop on your own.

If your winters are a little more mild, you can get away with cheaper and easier insulation. Something as simple as hanging wool blankets or horse blankets on the walls or stacking straw bales against the walls can really help to keep the coop warm in winter. You can also but clear plastic on the windows to insulate them or use plastic sheeting to section off part of the coop. It’s easier for chickens to keep warm in a smaller space.

Chickens outside the coop in snow

Step Three: Eliminate Drafts in the Coop

A drafty coop is like a constantly blowing fan in already super cold weather. Eliminating cold drafts can be the difference between misery and comfort for your flock. Drafts are dangerous to chickens because they make it difficult for the birds to use their natural defense against the cold, their feather armor. Chickens fluff up their feathers when they’re cold, creating a pocket of warm air next to their skin. If they’re getting blown with cold air, that pocket of warmth gets disrupted, causing a nasty chill.

Drafts are common in areas that lead to the outside, such as doors and windows. Close up gaps around frames with Silicone Sealant or weather strips. When the weather drops below zero, close the door to the chicken run and keep the birds inside to conserve heat.

A black and white chicken walking outside in winter

Step Four: Add Ventilation to Winterize the Chicken Coop

While a drafty coop is detrimental to your flock, a completely airtight coop can be just as bad, if not worse. There needs to be constant exchange of air happening between your chicken coop and the outside. This is one of the best things you can do to winterize the chicken coop.

What’s the difference between drafts and ventilation? Think of drafts like a constant fan blowing on your chickens. If there’s a drafty window at the same level as the chicken roosts, that allows a constant breeze on your birds, chilling them to the bone.

Good ventilation on the other hand, allows inside air that is full of ammonia, moisture, dust, and carbon dioxide, to flow out of the coop, and allows fresh air to flow in. This is essential for the health of your flock. Moisture is the leading cause of frostbite, not cold, so letting moisture escape is the key to avoiding it.

Proper coop ventilation happens at the top of the coop, where the wall meets the ceiling. This is too high up to cause a constant blowing draft on your chickens (unless they roost in the rafters) but still allows a proper exchange of air.

To add ventilation holes to your coop, you can either drill holes in the wall, or cut a few small rectangular windows and cover them with hardware cloth. The hardware cloth will keep out predators and pests like mice, but still allow air flow.

A Dominique chicken in the snow

Extra Tips to help your chickens get through the cold winter:

Winterizing the chicken coop is easy and will absolutely make life more comfortable for your chickens this winter. Take the time to do it in the fall and your birds will thank you with plenty of eggs and chicken cuddles all winter long!

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Edith

Friday 23rd of September 2022

I live in MS & in fall my grandkids & I take cardboard & staple it around the chicken house, leaving 1 entrance door ajar for them to get in & out. We staple it where the wire is to keep out cold winds. No cost, except staples. Then in spring we remove the cardboard. Thank you for your article. I really enjoyed this article & the one about treats you could give them in the winter. Useful knowledge.

Marisa Slaiby

Sunday 4th of October 2020

I just started to winterize the coop . I used regular insulation on the outside and used a staple gun with a thick plastic and covered it so it stays dry. I still need to close up the window 1/2 way with insulation and the other top half with just plastic to have some air movement .? Do you think I should insulate the top 1/2 or lower half . It is level though to where they roost at night.? The other option is a door where I clean the coop has a small gap I could keep that open instead . They roost at night and that is the door on the ground . My chickens are usually on top roosting

Peter Damm

Friday 18th of September 2020

Hi I'd like to know if you think a 4X4' coop is large enough for 4 hens. I've lived with chickens at various times in my life but now that I'm 74 I seem to enjoy it much more. Thanks Peter

Elaine

Thursday 14th of November 2019

Thank you for all the great information. Do you have or know where I can get any plans for making a simple but effective chi Ken coop? I would like to build one this spring.

Meredith

Wednesday 18th of December 2019

Yes, we have a post all about it! https://backyardchickenproject.com/20-free-chicken-coop-plans/

Carol

Tuesday 10th of September 2019

I have a few questions. Our coop is insulated top to bottom ,with 2 windows, a door to a roofed run.I have a bathroom fan on a timer in the ceiling to move around the air... do you think I should put in another ceiling vent? My birds are 5 months old & I think on the verge of laying. I am going to plastic the run so they can enjoy the outdoors without the cold Mn. wind blowing on them, at times it gets to be -40 below. Another question is about their door leading out to the run. It will be drafty in their house with it open. What’s a good way to help keep the cold out during the day? I shut the door when they go to roost for the night.I have 12 birds & this is my first year experiencing the joy I get having them. Any other suggestions will be greatly appreciated.😊🐓

Meredith

Sunday 15th of September 2019

Yes I would add some more ventilation, circulating the air with a fan is great, but that air also needs a way to escape the coop and fresh air needs a way to get in. As far as the door is concerned, we like to hang a heavy wool blanket over our door to the run in the winter, leaving only a space big enough on the bottom for the chickens to get through. This keeps out most of the draft but also allows them to get in and out easily.

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